2-horse race looms for 2018 Winter Olympics

There was no transcendent Rio moment this time, no dramatic

shift in momentum to swing the Olympic bid race. The campaign for

the 2018 Winter Games goes into the final stretch much as it was

before – with the South Korean bid from Pyeongchang in the front

and Munich pushing hard to overtake the favorites.

Bid leaders from Pyeongchang, Munich and Annecy, France, made

their case to International Olympic Committee members Wednesday and

Thursday, and will focus on preparing for the final presentations

and vote on July 6 in Durban, South Africa.

The two days of meetings with IOC members consolidated

Pyeongchang’s longtime status as the city to beat, but also

provided Munich a tangible boost as a serious challenger and gave

Annecy hope to believe it still has a chance.

”The French are working well and trying hard, but I think very

honestly it will be between Germany and Korea,” Swiss IOC

executive board member Rene Fasel told The Associated Press.

Another senior board member, Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico,

agreed.

”I think this one is a close race between the top two,” he

told the AP.

Fasel said there is ”no question” that Pyeongchang remains the

favorite. The South Koreans, bidding for a third consecutive time

after narrow defeats for the 2010 and 2014 Games, are pushing the

case of taking the Olympics to a new winter sports market in

Asia.

”I don’t think it’s that easy,” said Gerhard Heiberg, an

executive board member from Norway. ”It’s closer than what people

say.”

Munich says it’s time to bring the event back to winter

sports-loving Germany for the first time in 80 years, while Annecy

proposes ”authentic” village-style games in the heart of the

Alps.

In many ways, the decision comes down to whether the IOC wants

to continue the trend of moving to new territories or return to its

European roots.

The geographical argument has pull with Fasel who, as head of

the international ice hockey federation, is eager to promote his

sport in Asia.

”When the Germans are organizing something, it’s 100 percent,

no doubt,” Fasel said. ”It’s very precise, well done and well

presented, but the Koreans are here three times. It’s time to go a

little bit to Asia. Running a third time is for sure an

advantage.”

The bid cities made closed-door presentations to 88 of the IOC’s

110 members on Wednesday. On Thursday, more than 60 members visited

the candidates’ exhibition rooms at a Lausanne hotel, viewing

high-tech digital videos and maps and asking detailed questions

about the bid proposals.

The members have less than two months to absorb the information

before casting their secret ballots in Durban.

A voting majority is required for victory. Pyeongchang led both

times after the first round of previous ballots, but ended up

losing in the final round to Vancouver for the 2010 Games and

Sochi, Russia, for 2014. The Koreans would hope to secure enough

votes in the first round this time.

Voting for the Winter Games can be unpredictable because many of

the IOC members come from countries with little winter sports

interest.

”A lot of IOC members vote not with their heads but with their

hearts,” Heiberg said. ”It’s a question on the emotional side,

the personal side. That’s why it’s very difficult to predict the

outcome.”

This was the second time the IOC has arranged a special meeting

with bid cities ahead of the vote, and the first time for the

Winter Games. Two years ago, the first such meeting was pivotal in

giving Rio de Janeiro a surge of support that carried it to victory

a few months later in the vote for the 2016 Summer Games.

There was no game-changing moment this time.

”I don’t think there were major seismic shifts yesterday,”

Carrion said. ”Last time, there was a marked shift of momentum in

favor of Rio. I don’t sense that this time, but you never

know.”

Members said Pyeongchang did what it needed to maintain its

strong position, but the South Koreans downplayed their presumed

favorite status.

”We’re very satisfied,” bid chairman Cho Yang-Ho said. ”We

presented our message. Now we just have to keep going, keep

running. We cannot stop. Even if we have more confidence than

before, we still cannot relax. We have to go the same pace all the

way to Durban.”

The mood in the Munich camp was ebullient, with the feeling that

the German bid had picked up considerable steam.

”What we hear is that we got our message across of modern,

sustainable, magic Winter Games full of Olympic atmosphere,” said

Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president who is a senior figure in the

Munich bid.

Bach said he wasn’t concerned with predictions of who is leading

or not.

”This is a marathon,” he said. ”You have to cross the finish

line first. It’s not about leading halfway or at 30 kilometers. We

can go with full confidence to Durban that we can make it. It will

be a tough race until the end.”

Annecy bid leader Charles Beigbeder said he thought the French

candidacy, once considered a longshot at best, was a legitimate

contender.

”We have demonstrated that technically there is no more

issue,” he said. ”Now this is behind us and everything starts. We

are already in the mood of being an OCOG (organizing committee). We

are absolutely confident and we strongly believe it’s time for

Annecy.”